Gifts are given and received along with different intentions under different circumstances. There are certain times when a gift should be declined. Over-expensive gifts are usually the most common reason for refusing gifts. Sometimes the giver himself is the reason why one refuses to accept a gift. In the corporate world, gifts are declined to avoid damaging a business relationship.

So how do you gracefully decline a gift? How do you go about returning a gift without offending the giver? Most of the time, a simple, “Thank you but I can’t accept this,” is enough. But a part of us will still consider what the giver might be thinking and then asking ourselves if we are doing the right thing.

There are moments when you feel uneasy accepting a gift and you hear a little voice inside you who says “give it back”. When this happens, by all means just refuse to accept the gift or return it. If you had set boundaries in your life, and not accepting particular gifts in particular situations is part of it, don’t be afraid to decline gifts as long as you do it graciously.

Gift-giving has always been a part of building relationships so it is important to know when we should decline gifts so as to avoid complicating matters. If we know how to receive gifts graciously, it is also advisable that we know when and how we should refuse gifts so we can do it in a respectful manner.

Related: When and How to Recycle a Gift

When Should You Decline from Receiving a Gift?

Here are some situations when you should decline a gift.

  • The gift was given with obvious romantic intentions and you know you can’t return the love. Accepting this gift will just give the giver false hopes so if you know in your heart that there’s no way you can reciprocate the feeling, just refuse the gift.
  • The gift came from your boss. It’s okay if you get a pen or a purse on your birthday or during Christmas. It could be your boss’ way of showing appreciation for your hard work. But if you start receiving expensive gifts like jewelry, gadgets, with lunch or dinner every now and then, I think you should decline because it could be seen as fraternization that could very well lead to sexual harassment.
  • The same is true if you receive expensive gifts from clients or coworkers. Companies, in general, have strict policies against this form of gift-giving.
  • You also have to refuse even small gifts from business associates if it is against office policy.
  • You also cannot accept gifts from people you just met for the first time. Flowers and cordial gifts are generally offered on business transactions and they are always accepted, but these represent the companies they work for. Gifts on a personal level given on the first meeting should be declined.
  • Be cautious in accepting gifts from an overly generous person. There are some people who use their generosity as a means in controlling relationships and looking to create obligations. They may even use these gifts as a way to continue contact even if your relationship has ended and you’ve removed yourself from the situation.
  • You can also decline a gift if you feel that the giver spent more money than he/ she should have on the gift.
  • Pets as gifts can also be turned down especially if you don’t want it or can’t take care of it. But you can accept the pet if it is something you really wanted all along.
  • Someone gave you a gift as a form of apology. If that person has apologized adequately and expressed remorse over whatever offense he/she has done, I guess a gift asking your forgiveness can be too much.
  • For obvious reasons, you should turn down gifts that have sexual overtures from business partners, co-workers, employers, and clients.
  • Anniversary gifts from someone who is not related to you should also be returned as a matter of good etiquette.
  • You should also decline an expensive gift given by someone who cannot really afford it and the gift may put them in financial difficulty.
  • Of course, we teach our children not to accept gifts from strangers so we should do the same.

How to Decline a Gift Gracefully

  • It is still best to do it personally by talking to the giver in private.
  • When talking to the giver is not possible, you should write a letter.
  • Do not forget to thank the giver for the gift and his/her thoughtfulness. Be very careful not to embarrass the giver.
  • Express your reasons clearly and carefully why you have to decline the gift and show your regret in doing so.
  • Make your words simple and avoid drama. You don’t always have to explain but if it is necessary, keep it short and be firm in your decision. There are some people who will try to manipulate you into changing your decision.
  • In cases when the gift came from a business associate who refuses to take the gift back, you must notify your superior so your company will have a record of your actions.

More Tips, Some Gift Giving Cultures that Include Refusing Gifts

You may have an impulse to return a gift, however, never decide in a rush. There are circumstances when you should reconsider. For example, a friend gave you an expensive gift and you felt it was too much so you want to return it. But what if this friend saved for this gift because he/she knew you wanted this? Your friend would be disappointed if you refused this gift given with love.

Remember that there are cultures that require you to decline a gift at least once before accepting it.

In the U.S. for instance, it is common for a recipient to say something like, “You shouldn’t have”, or “This is way too generous”. These words mean that they appreciate your gift.

In Japan, on the other hand, one should decline a gift once or twice before accepting it.

In China, it is customary that one should refuse a gift three times before accepting it.

In Hong Kong, you must refuse a gift several times before accepting it or you will appear greedy.

Don’t forget that a gift must represent the giver’s good intentions. Any recipient must sense this so if a gift is given with other ulterior motives other than goodwill, it must be declined.